Jonathan Papelbon's glove had yet to hit the ground, his wild-eyed victory scream and gorilla pose still in full bloom. Mike Lowell was smiling, his hands raised, already making a beeline for the pile of celebrating teammates in the middle of the field.
John Henry, the Red Sox owner, stood applauding in the stands at Coors Field, accepting hugs and handshakes from those around him. A good contingent of Boston fans whooped it up amid a mile-high ocean of purple-clad Rockies fans as Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado's exciting rookie shortstop, stood unmoving in the on-deck circle, arms folded.
Stuck in the back of all their minds -- it wasn't front and center at that exact moment, certainly, but it would break through all the glee and beer haze before the night was over -- was a concept that most everyone around baseball will have to grapple with in the days and weeks and, probably, for long years ahead.
The Boston Red Sox, once perennial sad-sack losers, are now baseball's powerhouse, a burgeoning dynasty of -- can we say it now? -- Ruthian proportions. It's not going to be easy to stop them.
"What we saw tonight was a preview of what's to come," Henry, the team's principal owner, said on Sunday after the Sox finished off a sweep of the Rockies to win their second World Series in four seasons. "This shows 2004 wasn't a fluke."
Henry wouldn't be so bold as to predict more World Series titles, "Baseball is a tough game," he said. "It's not easy to win even if you do everything right." Still, after winning 96 games in the regular season and the American League East title, after a stirring comeback against the Indians earned them the AL pennant, and after the convincing World Series win, everybody around baseball realizes that the Sox are the new force in the game.
Thanks to a well-oiled baseball operations department that scouts well, conducts smart drafts, pulls off savvy trades and isn't afraid to spend on the occasional free agent when needed, the Sox are poised to take over the mantle of top organization in baseball from the once-dominant but currently lagging Yankees. These Sox are built to last.
They have some business to take care of this offseason, as they will every winter. A mainstay of their rotation in both 2004 and '07, Curt Schilling, becomes a free agent. Third baseman Lowell also is a free agent. (General manager Theo Epstein already has declared Boston's desire to re-sign the World Series MVP, who hit .324 and drove in 120 runs in the regular season.) The team undoubtedly will try to trade away outfielder Coco Crisp now that young Jacoby Ellsbury has shown that he can perform on the biggest stage.
Whatever happens, though, the Sox will thrive because of a solid young group that includes starters Jon Lester (who won Game 4 on Sunday), Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett, all of whom the Sox have control of for several years. The same is true of relievers like Manny Delcarmen and the incomparable closer Papelbon, who has yet to allow a run in 14 2/3 innings of postseason relief.
Young everyday players such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Ellsbury are under team control for the next several years. Slugger David Ortiz has three years remaining on his four-year deal. Manny Ramirez's massive contract finally expires after next season but the club has options for two more years after that. J.D. Drew was signed for five years last winter. In all, the Sox will return in 2008 -- and for a few years after that -- largely intact.
"I mean it when I say there's not one bad guy in this clubhouse," Lester said on Sunday night, grasping the World Series trophy in the celebratory clubhouse. "Hopefully, we'll be doing this a lot more."
What will make the Sox especially dangerous in the ears ahead is that they will continue to be a player in the free-agent market, too, filling in from there what they can't get through player development or trades. Last season they out-bid the Yankees for Matsuzaka and discovered a hidden gem in Hideki Okajima. The Sox had the second-highest payroll in baseball in 2007 -- it was about $143 million, $50 million or so behind the Yankees -- and figure to be no lower than second again in 2008.
With money to burn and baseball smarts to use it well, it's difficult to find fault with the way the Sox are going about the business of winning baseball. In the years ahead, it's not going to get any easier, either.
As badly as things went for Boston's opponent in the World Series, don't be surprised if the Rockies are battling for the National League title again in 2008. After years of trying and failing to find players on the free-agent market -- sometimes with disastrous results -- the Rockies will continue to grow in '08 and beyond.
Five of the Rockies' everyday players -- first baseman Todd Helton, shortstop Tulowitzki, third baseman Garrett Atkins and outfielders Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe -- were drafted and developed by the organization. All will be around for years to come. Their rotation is largely set, too, at least for the immediate future, with ace Jeff Francis, young fastballer Ubaldo Jimenez and lefty Franklin Morales. The team is expected to exercise its 2008 option on the old man of the group, 28-year-old Aaron Cook, who pitched well but took the loss in Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night.
"This is a group of guys that came up together," said Cook. "We've still got a lot of baseball ahead of us."
Like the Sox and every other team in baseball, the Rockies have decisions to make this winter. Locking in Cook, for one. Deciding whether to get in on the free-agent bidding for one of their starters, Josh Fogg, is another. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba is a free agent, as is reliever Matt Herges. Colorado has several players that are arbitration eligible.
There will be some changes. But the Rockies seem ready to try to keep their nucleus together rather than going outside of the organization to spend money on free agents. The Rockies ranked 25th in payroll last season, at a little more than $54 million. That'll probably increase, given all the arbitration cases and raises due guys such as Holliday, who could be the NL MVP.
However the winter shakes out, the wild-card Rockies showed in 2007 that their days of spending wildly and losing are over. They're heading the other way now.